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“Ceux-là Qui Partent pour Partir”: Travel as Relinquishment in Charles Baudelaire's Le Voyage

  • Author(s): Catovic, Vedran
  • et al.

This paper explores the desire for traveling infusing the final poem of Charles Baudelaire's collection Les Fleurs du mal, the poem Le Voyage (variously translated as Travel or The Voyage). I focus on the yearning of the speaker and the poet for the abandoning of the known world, on the desire for renouncing of the underwhelming earthly existence for the discovery of the Unknown and the New. This transgressive urge, the essay argues, lies at the heart of Baudelaire's poetic sensibility, and is a powerful harbinger of modernist aesthetics. I comment on the daring, defying excess of the poem, on its dreaming of and indulging into a journey that effaces and escapes the boundaries and limitations of reality. Le voyage thus becomes a vehicle of evasion, of radical abandonment to the unknown outcomes of a journey conceived as relinquishment. Among various travelers, it is those who embark on journey for the journey's sake who receive the poet's highest commendations. I characterize the paradoxical coexistence of the yearning for a metaphysical breakthrough, and full awareness of the existential void, of the futility of any travel whose purpose lies outside of itself, as crucial to Baudelaire's artistic temperament. I also proceed to comment on the far reaching consequences of Baudelaire's pessimistic and confrontational poetics. An argument is made that interpretation of Baudelaire needs to acknowledge at all times the fierce and irreconcilable attitude of the poet, an attitude which has all too often been downplayed by more tame and conformist readings of the Fleurs du mal.

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